Monthly Archives: September 2013

Faceless, Nameless, Homeless

Every time I see the Kansas Secterary of State, Chris Kobach grinning and crowing about how easy it is for everybody to obtain necessary identification to vote, I think of this story….

It’s a story about a young, homeless man we’ll call “Don” (not his real name).   About a year or so ago,  I met Don when he came to the dinner the church I was pastoring served every Friday to the homeless and needy.    He was a pleasant, rather shy, thin  young man.   He had fled New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and somehow ended up being laid off and jobless and on the streets in Hutchinson, Kansas.   As I talked to him and asked if there were any way I could help him, he asked if I could help him get a driver’s license in Kansas.   He had a recent job offer, but he was required  to have a Driver’s License to be hired and the only picture I.D.  he had was a Louisiana Driver’s License that had expired a couple of years previous to the current time and when it expired he had no money to renew it.

Actually Don had several problems:   First, he had no permanent address to give—the streets of Hutchinson, Kansas would not qualify.   I had the solution to that problem—we could use the church’s address as his permanent address.   Second, and more serious, to get a Driver’s License from Kansas required a current picture I.D., a birth certificate, or a passport.   That was a problem, as Kansas  would not accept Don’s Louisiana Driver’s License as picture identification.   So we sent to Louisiana to get his birth certificate, sending the fee and the necessary paperwork, including his old Louisiana Driver’s License.   Back came the reply, minus the fee sent, that they couldn’t furnish a birth certificate without a picture I.D. that was current, like a Kansas Driver’s License.   Here’s the problem:   to get a Driver’s License in Kansas, Don needed a birth certificate or passport, etc., but to get the birth certificate from Louisiana, he had to have a valid picture I.D. from Kansas.   They wouldn’t accept his old Louisiana Driver’s License that had expired as picture i.d. for his birth certificate.!   In a nutshellno birth certificate, no driver’s license in Kansas—-no Kansas Driver’s License, no birth certificate in Louisiana.   It was an impasse that all my letters and phone calls could not overcome.

The last time I heard from Don he was in Nebraska, had a job offer–again depending on a driver’s license, and called to see if I had been able to break the legal  Gordian Knot—-I was so sorry to have to tell this young man that I had not been able to get his birth certificate!!    It wasn’t a problem of the bureaucracy, it was a problem of the laws passed.

This barrier  to re-entry to our society is only one of many  that the homeless face.   Don didn’t just want to get his I.D. to vote, he needed a driver’s license so he could work!!

Don is one of many, many faceless, nameless, homeless people in the United States.   We should be ashamed!!

“Doing church or Being church?”

All of us who have been or are connected with mainline churches have heard the lament many times:   “He/She always went to Sunday School and church.  I can’t understand why they did the bad things they did.”   Or:   “Their children always were in church and Sunday School, but now we never see them.   Why?”

I know there are many answers to these questions, but I would like to suggest one that appears broad enough to cover many of the children who have “gone wrong” or the children “who never darken a church’s door now.”

It is my experience that these children were taken to church and Sunday School and were taught how to “do church”, but the church failed to teach them how to “be church.”

Diana Butleri Bass , in her book, Christianity for the Rest of Us recounts the story of her life growing up in a Methodist church and remarks that she learned how to “do church”,  how to take communion, how to fix casseroles for fellowship dinners,  how to be obedient, how to do the rituals of the church—-but never did she have any instruction in how to “be church“.

All of us know that there is a difference between “doing church” and “being church“, but what is it exactly?   In my opinion “doing church” is a matter of being busy, busy busy,  with committee meetings, church attendance,  decorating for fellowship dinners, planning  programs and carrying them out, fixing the Lord’s Supper,  and doing all the jobs we are asked to do to keep the institution smoothly  running as a business might run.   I am in no way saying these do not need to be done, but they are not the most important  part of being Christian, a disciple of Jesus Christ.   The above are all involved in “doing church“.

The important part, on  the other hand,  is “being church”    It is being a  functioning part of the body of Christ in this world— loving God and living in His Presence, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.   “Being church” is practicing our faith in daily life.  It is walking the walk that the people of the bible and  that Jesus and this disciples walked.  “Being Church” is being Christ’s body here right now in the present.   It is practicing radical hospitality as he practiced it.   it is taking up our cross daily, though that might lead to suffering and self-denial.  It is practicing passionate and Radical Christianity  in our communities, both spiritual and secular. 

Somehow we neglected to show our young people in all of the busy-ness of “doing church” what “being church” was all  about and its importance in living as a disciples of Jesus the Christ.  .   And one of the characteristics of the generation now in young adulthood  is that they are still searching for the meaning of “being church” but are put off by just being asked to “do church.”

Do you agree or disagree?   And if you agree with me, how can we change our practices and teaching in our declining mainline churches so that we do not produce another generation like the one who has rejected the church?

Rather than lament the past, let’s concentrate on changing the future!

Promoting the Common Welfare?

Those in our Congress who have taken an oath to support the Constitution of the United States should take a look at the Preamble which states:   “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

How can the politicis of obstruction, the politics of political advantage, the politics of fear, and the politics of greed and money  which are practiced by many of those who have taken the oath to support this Consitution  be explained?  How many of our Congressmen and Senators have abandoned their oath in favor of party advantage and political office by appealing to fear and greed of corporations  rather than the GENERAL WELFARE?

Think about this Americans, because your democracy is  becomeing  a theocracy and a plutocracy and the General Welfare is not being considered or achieved!!

The general welfare is only achieved by “loving your neighbor as yourself” and how many can honestly say they are doing that in the political arena today?

Covenants of Civility

Like many of you, I am increasingly concerned about the political incivility that exists in our country at the present time.  As an American History instructor for many years, I recognize too many correlations between our political discourse in this decade and the political discourse in the 1850’s that led to the Civil War in the 1860’s.

In his latest book, On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good, Jim Wallis states the case for civility in politics and the danger we face with the incivility now exercised by politicians,  TV commentators and radio talk shows from both ends of the political spectrum.  He says…

“Truth and civility are too important to lose.  The political polarization of our society has now reached a new and dangerous level.  Honest disagreements over policy issues have turned into a growing vitriolic rage against political opponents and threats of violence against lawmakers have been credibly reported and even carried out.”   (p. 76)

In response to requests from several members of Congress who were people of faith and expressed their concerns and fears to him, Wallis convened a group of Christian leaders in 2010 to talk, pray, and discern how churches and pastors might lead by example to help create a more civil and moral tone in our politics at all levels.   The group was diverse and comprised of leaders across the political spectrum from liberal to conservative and included Democrats, Republicans and Independents.  They joined to create and endorse a “Civility Covenant” which they signed and invited thousands of pastors and laypeople to also sign.

In this era when members of congress are asked to sign “no tax pledges” perhaps it would be more appropriate to ask them to sign the covenant that I have given below.   I hope you will read it….then let’s try to live it ourselves….and demand by our ballots that those who run for and are in elective office subscribe to it with their actions as well as words.

The Covenant for Civility

As Christian pastors and leaders with diverse theological and political beliefs, we have come together to make this covenant with each other, and to commend it to the church, faith-based organizations, and individuals, so that together we can contribute to a more civil national discourse.   The church in the United States can offer a message of hope and reconciliation to a nation that is deeply divided by political and cultural differences

Too often , however, we have reflected the political divisions of our culture rather than the unity we have in the body of Christ.   We come together to urge those who claim the name of Christ to “put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.”  (Ephesians 4:31-32)

1.  We commit that our dialogue with each other will reflect the spirit of the scriptures, where our posture toward each other is to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”  (James 1:19)

2.  We believe that each of us, and our fellow human beings, are created in the image of God.   The respect we owe to God should be reflected in the honor and respect we show to each other in our common humanity, particularly in how we speak to each other.  “With the tongue we bless God, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God…this ought not to be so.”  (James 3:9-10)

3.  We pledge that when we disagree, we will do so respectfully, without falsely impugning the other’s motives, attacking the other’s character, or questioning the other’s faith, and recognizing in humility that in our limited, human opinions, “we see put a poor reflection as in a mirror”  (I Coringthians 13:12).  We will therefore “be completely huymble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”  (Ephesians 4:2)

4.  We will be ever mindful of the language we use in expressing our disagreements, being neither arrogant nor boastful in our beliefs.   “Before destruction one’s heart is haughty, but humility goes before honor.”  (Proverbs 18:12)

5.  We recognize that we cannot function together as citizens of the same community, whether local or national, unless we are mindful of how we treat each other in pursuit of the common good, in the common life we share together.   Each of us must therefore “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”   (Ephesians 4;25)

6.  We commit to pray for our political leaders—those with whom we may agree, as well as those with whom we may disagree.   “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thangsgivings be made for kings and all who are in high positions>”  (I Timothy 2:1-2)

7.  We believe that it is more difficult to hate others, even our adversaries and our enemies, when we are praying for them.   We commit to pray for each other, those with whom we agree and those with whom we may disagree, so that together we may strive to be faithful witnesses to our Lord, who prayed “that they may be one.”   (John 17:22)

We pledge to God and to each other that we will lead by example in a country where civil discourse seems to have broken down.   We will work to model a better way in how we treat each other in our many faith communities, even across religious and political lines.   We will strive to create in our congregations safe and sacred spaces for common prayer and community discussion as we come together to seek God’s will for our nation and our world..

Concern or Compassion—the difference!

We read the statistics of the number of children in Wichita public schools who are homeless and we are shocked and concerned about the large numbers—but how many of us know, personally, any of these homeless children?

Re read in our newspapers of 150,000 men, women and children who will be prevented from having Medicaid medical care because Kansas lawmakers refuse to accept the program that is a part of Obamacare.  We are concerned, but are any of us personally acquainted with any of those “statistics” on a first name basis ?  In all of the above “people problems”Christians may be concerned.   But we have no personal relationship with any of these people and therefore no compassion for them.   Jim Wallis writes , “A very wise old man told me the difference between concern and compassion.  Being concerned is seeing something awful happening to somebody and feeling ‘Hey, that’s really too bad.’  “Having compassion’, he said, is seeing the same thing and saying, ‘I just can’t let that happen to my brother.”   (Wallis, Call to Conversion, p. 49-50)

Compassion grows out of a feeling of relationship—this is my brother, my sister, part of God’s family; this is a child of God, and I must act, not just feel badly for them.

Jesus acted out of compassion many times in his ministry.  For example, in Mark 1:40-41 we read that “a leper came to him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.”   Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose.  Be made clean!”

I John 3:17 says “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”

Our lives and our cities are so structured that we seldom come face to face with poverty.   But doing that is necessary to trigger a response of compassion in our hearts.    The freeways of our cities take us over and away from the places where the poor live.   Our suburbs isolate us from the poverty of the inner-city.   We don’t see or smell or hear the poverty—we don’t hear the gunshots, we don’t see the victims of drugs and alcohol that are homeless on the “skid rows” of our cities.

I believe what Wallis says is true:     “Proximity to poor people is crucial to our capacity for compassion.   Only through proximity do we begin to see, touch, and feel the experience of poverty.   when affluent people find genuine friendships among the poor, some revolutionary changes in our consciousness can begin to tak place.”  (Call to Conversion, p. 51).

I have, in my experience found this to be very true.   At Bread and Cup ministries we make a point to sit down at tables with the poor and the needy and to listen to life stories and see needs firsthand.   Sometimes the persons  don’t smell very good.  Sometimes they don’t talk very “nice.”   Sometimes there is alcohol on their breath and we watch their struggles with addiction and think they are succeeding and then they break  our hearts when they fall back to old ways.   But we never feel  the same about them afterward.   That’s why, despite all the difficulties Bread and Cup has experienced in finding a place to locate, the volunteers keep working to provide for the needy.  That’s why Bread and Cup volunteers work their hearts out each week to provide food and clothing and fellowship.    These people  are our friends!. We feel compassion for these poor and needy and homeless people because we know them and love them. They are our brothers and sisters—and but for the grace of God, they are us! .

Practicing Radical Hospitality…

Most churches today would say that they practice “hospitality“.   They don’t!    At least not in the same sense as the early church did during it’s 1st 500 years.   Diana Butler Bass in her book, People’s History of Christianity, has researched this and points out a radical “hospitality” in the early church that we seldom see today.   She also believes that radical hospitality is what set the early church apart from the rest of society and was the reason for the large number of converts in the early years.

She says:  “Unlike almost every other contested idea in early Christianity,….the unanimous witness of the ancient fathers and mothers was that hospitality was the primary Christian virtue.   From the New Testament texts that unambiguously urge believers to “practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13) through St. Augustine’s work in the fifth century, early Christian writings extol hospitality toward the sick, the poor, travelers, widows, orphans, slaves, prisoners, prostitutes, and the dying.”   (  p.62, A People’s History of Christianity)   Lucian (ca. 160) a pagan critic of Christianity,  wrote of the lavish hospitality offered a local prisoner:  “The efficiency the Christians show whenever matters of a community interest like this happens is unbelieveable, they literally spare nothing.”   Bass tells of Cyprian of Carthage writing of the Plague of Galen (165-180 c.e.) when thousands died in the streets.  Cyprian tells how Christians proved their spiritual mettle by tending to the sick.   Because they did not fear death, they stayed behind in the plague-ravaged cities while others fled and their acts of mercy were extended to all regardless of race, tribe or religion.  And many of the survivors were attracted to Christianity because of this.

The early Christians apparently took the words and actions of Jesus seriously.  They believed that the Great Commandment Jesus  gave to “love your neighbor as yourself” was what he meant.   Jesus followed this commandment himself in his ministry  as he extended  his hospitality to the poor, the outsider, the sick, the deranged,  the outsiders—unloved and unwanted human beings whom he called “the least of these” . amd took them all into his circle of care and protection.   Listen to his words addressed to those who practiced such radical hospitality in the Gospel of Matthew:   “Come, you that are blessed by my Father,  inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing.  I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me….  (Matt. 25:34-36)

How do Christians today  practice radical hospitality? Most of them don’t. When they say they practice hospitality they refer to greeters at the church door on Sunday a.m. to say hello and give a church bulletin; perhaps also to recognize “visitors” (why can’t we call them “guests” or “brothers and sisters”?) and have them stand and/or give them a small gift for attending. That’s about it! Some furnish coffee before and after church on Sundays but they are in the minority, I fear. I recently read an annual report from one of the churches in Hutchinson that had a hospitality committee report. Almost all of what they did , a fairly long list,  last year was only for their own church family.  No outreach to any of the above.

I was saddened to hear that when a community outreach program in Hutchinson, the Bread and Cup , was forced to move from the church where they originated, this program that fed 60-100+ poor and needy people every Friday, provided clothing and a food pantry  and fellowship with followers of Jesus—and was practicing the Jesus-type of radical hospitality asked 7 ( seven) churches in the downtown area of Hutchinson for a place to move to and continue their ministry and were turned down by all seven of these churches. Even the Salvation Army turned a deaf ear to them.  One church finally responded—they agreed to rent some small space to the Bread and Cup just for Friday’s—they can’t bring any of their equipment there!   

My fellow Christians—I feel strongly that Jesus meant what he said when he gave the Great Commandment:   “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself.”  

When will Christians and their churches start to follow it?

Watchdog or Lapdog?

Is the church a watchdog or a lapdog in relation to our culture?   There is a vast difference between the two.   A watchdog is “the conscience of the culture” that challenges  us when we stray from the core values of our culture.    A lapdog  merely goes along with the decisions the culture makes and as long as it is taken care of, petted and remains  comfortable in the lap of the culture  will do nothing to change anything.

Everytime I read the newspaper or watch TV News I am reminded of our culture’s problems.   To name a few major problems:  healthcare for the poor, lack of jobs and livable wages for the working poor, lack of ethics and basic honesty in politics and business, devaluing of human life.  Let me state a few examples:

  • In Kansas, our stade leaders have apparently opted not to extend the Medicaid program that is part of Obamacare and would be paid for by the federal government to over 150,000 persons in this state.   This is a program that will not cost the state and is backed by hospitals and medical associations statewide  as providing healthcare to a large number of people who presently can’t afford it and of creating a large number of jobs to boost the economy of Kansas.   The main reason given is a political one—-it’s part of Obamacare that Republicans are pledge to defeat one way or another.    The same is true of the problem of not creating insurance centers to help the poor get insurance.      Our infant morality rate in Kansas is one of the highest in the country due to lack of care for expectant mothers who are poor.   Human beings—men, women, children, are dying in our state through lack of medical and psychiatric care. Hundreds of children go to bed hungry every night.   I’ve seen this with my own eyes and heard it on the streets of Hutchinson, Ks. from homeless and needy people.

Where is the church of Jesus Christ speaking to this problem and reminding our leaders that the way we are going is not the way of Jesus who commanded us to “love our neighbors as ourselves.”?  I hear only silence from the church!   Watchdog or lapdog for the culture?

  • The working poor are those who can only find jobs that pay minimum wage or less and are part-time so employers don’t have to pay for health insurance.   These workiing poor include many families where both mother and father work but are still unable to pay the rent and provide adequate food and medical care for their families and themselves.

Who speaks up for the working poor to those in power who want to abolish the Affordable Health Care Act, not extend Medicaid in Kansas,  and block any rise to the minimum wage that might give them a decent living they work so long and hard to provide for their families?   Who?  The church?   Again, I hear only silence!!   Is the church a watchdog or a lapdog?  

  • When those running for office attack each other viciously and tell lies about their opponent and spend millions spreading those lies in the media in order to win elective office and then do nothing to improve the common good while in office—who holds them accountable?

  Who exposes these lies and viciousness and holds those responsible for  them accountable for what they say?    Who speaks up and condemns theses lies and indecencies and holds ttheir perpetrators  accountable?  The church?   Silence again!!    Watchdog or lapdog? 

Our culture is an increasingly unhealthy one to live in for a growing number of poor people and increasing for what used to be the middle class.   From the personal level to the national level we have lost our moral compass—our conscience, our sense of right and wrong, good and evil.   We have forgotten our neighbors are children of God and that life is of value.

It is time for Christians to step forward and be the conscience of our nation!   We have remained silent too long and by our silence have allowed these things to happen and in some cases have even promoted them.   When we fail to challenge decisions from the personal to the national level with a word from God as revealed by Jesus the Christ we become a part of the problem—-lapdogs!   As long as we are comfortable ourselves we won’t get involved.    The problem with this is that it violates completely the Great Commandment that Jesus gives in  Matthew that summarizes the law and the prophets and the mission for his followers:   “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself!  

Richard Rohr says it well in his introduction to the Enneagram:   “When religion is the conscience of society instead of its lapdog, culture is also healthy.”   (p. xvii Enneagram)